Pun intended.

I have been working for 3 years now in the area of Public Relations, long enough to understand its impact and long-term benefit to an esports brand. More importantly, I understand that it is important to hire a good PR professional earlier, rather than later, as a brand. Even small-scale organizations would benefit from a branding-focused PR manager as they grow and seek financial backing from sponsors and investors.

There are two reasons I suggest the early hiring of a PR manager. First, it is critically important to remain ahead of any negative press and to continuously maintain a positive relationship with journalists in order to keep a positive brand narrative going. I’ll talk more about that later in the post. Second, though, is because it significantly helps business decision-making to have brand and PR-focused staff present. In other words, by simply looking through the lens of PR and branding, companies are more likely to make smarter business decisions and to capitalize on those decisions as part of the earlier-mentioned brand narrative.

PR as an early inoculation for bad business, a Denial case study

I don’t normally call out other brands when I publicly share advice. I may bring up specific companies when talking one-on-one to clients to help bring a point to bear, but it’s not typically good practice to challenge other brands’ reputations in a sphere where it can escalate into a major disagreement. However, I find an exception in the case of Denial Esports, who is currently experiencing what I can affectionately call a “PR fiasco.” Their image issues originated in 2015, when a disagreement over pay for their recently-released Halo team made the rounds, and  in an oft-cited TwitLonger, Denial CEO Robby Ringnalda took a heavy-handed approach by claiming that organizations did not owe their players money if those players did not effectively market the organizations’ sponsors. This prompted brisk opposition especially within the Halo community but made an early challenge to the Denial brand as one that was not highly supportive of players. Also of note is that this spat occurred mere months after Denial made headlines for winning CoD Champs 2015, perhaps the single highest-profile win for the brand.

Fast-forward to 2017, and the financial woes for the company continued. James “Duck” Ma, a prominent Super Smash Bros Melee player, left Denial, citing a lack of pay as the principal reason. While the issue was quickly resolved, it brought to fore the 2015 accusations and repainted Denial as an organization with historical issues paying its players. Later, players from CS:GO and H1Z1 both made claims to payment that were never made, prompting additional investigation and subsequent reporting that Ringnalda was looking for additional funds and investors to settle the mounting debts. As of this posting on December 21, 2017, no social media posts have been made on Denial or Ringnalda’s Twitter profile since October 4, when Ringnalda acknowledged the issues and claimed to be working on resolution.

As a brand professional, I tend to look at the issue from a PR standpoint, notably that there seems to have been no regard to public relations for the whole of the past 2 years. Ringnalda’s TwitLonger posts border on “rambling” without regard to style, punctuation, or grammar, and thus do not come across as anywhere near as professional enough to expect from an organization with investors and owners including Hank Baskett. However, I have had to remind myself that this is not a branding issue, but a “bad business” issue. Denial has been cast in a negative light due to its questionable business practices, and not helped by its CEO’s public denouncements of issues that have arisen. So, why does this matter to me, a brand consultant?

This issue could have been avoided had proper brand and PR consulting pointed out the impact of the missed-payment allegations.

Let me explain.

Reimagine 2015 with Denial and Ringnalda working closely with a brand manager. That professional’s knowledge of the scene, best practices in branding, and training in PR would have made a couple of important distinctions. First, that professional would have setup relationships with journalists, creating a key connection with the press. When issues arose at that point, the PR professional would be called for comment and would both convey the gravity of the situation to Ringnalda as well as write an organizational response that addresses and assuages the concerns. If everyone learned a lesson from the issue, that would immediately improve business practices. The PR professional could challenge Ringnalda to make organizational changes that would avoid such issues from happening in the future. Should new policies be implemented, the issues of 2017 would have been avoided entirely. In this way, PR is a “vaccine” of sorts, inoculating the organization from making repeat bad decisions in the future. It’s not a 100% guarantee that such issues can be avoided (perhaps the business is just a bad business, and Ringnalda would not learn his lesson), but it puts issues more into the open so they can be addressed by a healthy organization and avoided in the future.

PR and positive brand narratives

If there’s a trend in the esports industry, it’s that organizations tend to neglect the lessons of the broader business community. I’ve asserted for awhile that the “next big organization” will be one that, from the outset, operates by traditional business practices. That includes smart practices in branding, particularly the need to assemble brand narratives.

Well-trained brand and PR professionals understand that all businesses have a narrative, or story, that in sum defines the companies’ values, and can capitalize on press and business policies to hone that narrative. This requires that the branding staff be on-board at the early stages of a company’s formation, to assist in learning company goals and missions, developing press and media strategies, and establishing the necessary policies and relationships to enact those strategies. Without this attention to detail regarding branding, poor decisions might “fall through the cracks” without thought given to the PR implications. The context of public relations can often inform smart business practices, rather than vice-versa. Rather than seeing PR professionals as “fixers” who solve problems as they arise, they should be viewed as early-actors who do their best to avoid such problems in future.

Importantly, if your company seeks to hire a PR manager only when a significant issue arises, it may be too late to protect the brand. PR and branding are invaluable parts of a company, no matter how small.

I would love to talk to you and your staff about the importance of branding and PR to your company. Contact me today and setup a free initial consultation!

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